Motorcycles and coasts go well together. Coasts tend to be undeveloped, with roads that accommodate the geography. As a result, they’re perfect routes for serene two-wheel touring and sightseeing.
Although the West Coast often receives the lion’s share of attention for its coastal rides, the South has its own gems, offering entertaining sights and engaging history.
Here are eight beach town destination suggestions to get the adventure-minded stirring with thoughts of Southern coastal rides.
St. Simons Island in Georgia—named a top U.S. destination by Travel + Leisure—is home to the Fort Frederica National Monument and the Hofwyl Broadfield Plantation. Comprising marshes and beaches, there is a series of small enclaves spread over the wetlands that make for plenty of exploring.
The island prides itself on offering everything from luxury hotels and restaurants to pubs and camping. The beaches are the main draw, but St. Simons is flush with history and traditional Southern hospitality. Private boat tours are available to remote parts of the island.
A popular day ride for motorcycles is the 133-mile ride south to Jekyll Island, or a meander up the coast road to Sea Island in the north. There’s the popular St. Simons’ Lighthouse, which was destroyed in the Civil War but has been rebuilt to its original glory. It serves as the starting point to the coastal road and townships.
Battered by several hurricanes over the past few decades, Mexico Beach has been fortified with renewed spirit and improved infrastructure. This quaint coastal community lures visitors with its white sand beaches and clear water.
Mexico Beach is situated in the panhandle of northern Florida, enjoying southern exposure to the Gulf of Mexico. Coastal routes extend to the east and west, making motorcycle outings easy to navigate by virtue of simply keeping the Gulf to your right or left.
Roads tend to be flat with minimal curves, but on the upside, this makes for easy touring and allows for sightseeing.
Given its Gulf Coast position, winter months can be problematic for riders. Spring and summer will suit Mexico Beach best, but keep an eye on weather as the South can experience sudden storms and atmospheric turbulence.
There are a number of hotels, many just steps away from the beach. The Driftwood Inn has a charming look and is right on the sand. There are also the alluring Port Cottages and—if you’re looking to capture some 1950s nostalgia—the Dixie Bell Motel.
This small village is located on Ocracoke Island in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Its unique history includes being the site of the pirate Blackbeard’s death in 1718, as well as hosting of a Confederate fort during the Civil War (although it saw no action).
No bridges connect Ocracoke Island to the mainland, despite Hwy 12 running through it. A series of ferries go to Hatteras and Cedar Islands, with Swan Quarter being the mainland access point.
Ocracoke Island has a unique dialect known as Hoi Toider (local pronunciation for High Tider), but this trait is gradually waning due to new generations favoring traditional American English.
Some 14 merchant ships were sunk off the coast here by German U-Boats during the opening stages of WWII, the eastern seaboard being a major route for ships. These facts were kept secret to avoid causing panic. A number of British soldiers who were sent to root out the submarines were killed in action and are buried in a cemetery here.
Given its location on the Outer Banks facing the Atlantic, Ocracoke is in the path of cyclones (after all, this is the wind-laden region the Wright Brothers chose for their flying experiments). Needless to say, before departing for your North Carolina motorcycle adventure, check the weather forecast.
Possessing no great twisties or mountain sweepers, what this outer banks region offers is gentle turns and laid back, slow riding with powerful Atlantic views and undulating sand dunes. Bring a kickstand plate as most turn-outs have deceptive sand.
Situated on the Gulf Coast of Alabama, Gulf Shores is known for its white sandy beaches and warm water. There are hiking trails, a pier, and—for the adventurous—a zip line that runs over the sand dunes.
Sea turtles and migratory birds flock here in abundance, forming longstanding habitats at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. For more wildlife, visit Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. Scenic cruises and dolphin watching are popular tourist attractions here.
The narrow land masses of the barrier islands make for very specialized motorcycle riding with easy, somewhat straight routes that go west, meandering their way to Gulf Beach. Keep going and you’ll reach where the main road ends at Fort Morgan on the west—22 miles from Gulf Shores.
Known as the Guardian of the Bay, Fort Morgan is the area’s most famous landmark. It dates to the early 1800s where it served as a defensive fort in the Battle of Spanish Fort and the Civil War, as well as both World Wars.
With numerous waterways and large bodies of water surrounding Gulf Shores, there are a number of small roads waiting to be discovered on two wheels. Summertime suits this region best, as winters can be cold and harsh, with high winds, but the weather warms up significantly in summer and rewards you with those white sands.
Testament to the popularity of Gulf Shores as a beach vacation choice, there are hundreds of hotels to pick from, suiting every budget and requirement. Tourists descend here in hordes during summer, so book ahead. Off-season brings with it great deals—although be prepared for changes in weather.
Hurricane Ian slammed this eastern Florida enclave in 2002 with a 12-foot storm surge, but the resolve of its business and hotel owners has astonished the nation. Sanibel has recovered rapidly, returning to its former beauty.
As a show of the locals’ good humor, their new, temporary motto is: “Not perfect, but still a paradise.”
Located 30 miles west of Fort Myers near the southern tip of Florida, Sanibel Island is accessed via the Sanibel Causeway. It offers 40 miles of beachfront with what is known as “sugar-white” sand beaches.
In the spring, Gulf storms drive tens of thousands of sea shells up onto those sandy beaches, making it a famous shelling destination that attracts hobbyists from all over the world. In fact, the bent-at-the-waist stance one sees up and down the beach among its visitors has been dubbed the “Sanibel Stoop.”
Naturally, with such an abundance of sea shells, the dominant design motif of local art and decor in the island’s boutiques tends toward sea shell ornamentation.
With its sugar-white sand beaches, the warm waters of the Gulf, and its near-tropical environment, Sanibel Island is an ideal getaway for a unique shelling experience, as well as rest and relaxation. One note of caution, though—check local laws about which and how many shells you can and cannot collect.
More of a destination than a riding experience, Sanibel Island has a small segment of roads that grant motorcyclists easy access to this small Gulf gem. For such a small island there is an abundance of hotels. Some of the more popular stays include Song of the Sea, Sanibel Inn, and Sundial Beach Resort & Spa.
Regarded as the oldest city in the U.S., St. Augustine in northeastern Florida was founded in 1565 by Don Pedro Menendez of Spain. The signature tourist draw is the magnificent and dramatic Castillo de San Marcos, a 17th-century Spanish stone fortress built to protect the St. Augustine inlet.
In addition to visiting the fortress, there are a number of museums in town with historic landmarks like Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth and the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the country.
For motorcyclists visiting this Florida city, there’s a 137-mile loop out of St. Augustine that goes through a number of small towns and enclaves such as Hastings, East Palatka, Sutherlands Still, Pomona Park, Crescent City, and Seville. The ride includes an Atlantic oceanfront traverse between Bulow Creek State Park and St. Augustine, which grants wide-open, endless, dramatic views of the mighty Atlantic.
St. Augustine itself has an old town that is a throwback to the narrow lanes of early settlements. Mixed in amidst the shops and museums are restaurants and various eateries, many specializing in fresh seafood.
Accommodations run the gamut in St. Augustine. One place in particular begs investigating—Villa 1565, located appropriately enough opposite Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth and adjacent to the Old Senator, a 600-year-old living oak tree.
Located on Virginia’s Eastern Shore region on Assateague Island is Chincoteague, named for the wild ponies that roam free in the marshes and forests here. In July, these wild ponies tread open water in an annual migration.
Chincoteague stands as a gateway to the 14,000-acre Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. With a rich history in the oyster industry, you will find industry artifacts and model boats at the Museum of Chincoteague Island.
The Historic Main St features souvenir shops and reflects the town’s penchant for ice cream parlors. Being an ocean enclave, “the catch of the day” has special resonance here when it comes to fresh seafood.
Nine miles away, on Wallops Island, is NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, where rockets are occasionally launched. Chincoteague provides an excellent viewing point for riding astro nuts. If you miss the launches, the facility has tours with informative exhibits featuring everything from scientific balloons to current NASA missions.
Chincoteague has beaches, swimming, hiking and biking, as well as kayaking. There’s also Assateague Island Lighthouse, where you can climb all the way to the top.
SR 13 provides the best motorcycle-friendly pavement on Assateague Island and can be taken north as part of a loop to Sallsbury , east to Berlin, and then south back to Chincoteague. You can also take SR 13 south all the way down to Kiptopeke and, if you’re in a daring mood, you can ride through the famous Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. It’s a 17.6-mile bridge and tunnel that connects Norfolk and Virginia Beach.
The tunnel goes under the shipping lanes. Tolls range from $14 to $18 depending on the season, and there’s a reduced rate if you return within 24 hours.
A quirky destination deserves a quirky stay. The Sea Shell Motel has that simple, family-owned charm so welcome when road tripping. There’s also the Channel Bass Inn, a bed-and-breakfast if your tastes lean more toward the Victorian.
In southern Texas, just across the water from Corpus Christi on Mustang Island, sits the city of Port Aransas. This unusual 18-mile-long strip of land is known for its Gulf Coast beaches and warm water.
With wetlands providing a natural sanctuary for a variety of birds, the bay rife with dolphins, and a boardwalk at the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center that crosses over alligator-inhabited wetlands, Mustang Island makes for a unique destination.
On this 18-mile stretch of Texas is a single motorcycle route. Beginning in Cove Harbor Marina, it stretches as far as the road goes to the south before it dead-ends, resulting in a 40-mile loop. The route takes riders through small villages where a surprising number of eateries can be found.
There are tourist stops, such as Rockport’s historic town center and Howard Murph Park. However, it’s the uniqueness of Park Road 22, a simple paved road that traverses the island, that rewards you with Gulf views and quaint establishments along the way. It’s an easy route, just 40 miles, so fill it with plenty of stops and enjoy the island.
Gulf coast locales are subject to harsh winds and storms in winter and sometimes in spring. In summer, the heat warms the Gulf for swimming, and the beaches are perfect for beachcombing.
Being a resort beach a number of second homes have been opened up for rental. Many can be found on the beach, close to the water, for fairly reasonable prices.